Boris Johnson

Can Britain’s Trump Survive?

Partygate could be fatal to Boris Johnson. Crossposted at Chapman's News & Ideas

London — The parallels between American and British politics make many Brits nervous — especially when it comes to brash Prime Minister Boris Johnson and boastful former President Donald Trump.

As I spent the week in the U.K., Labour and conservative Members of Parliament were calling on Johnson to go, and the TV news question of the day was whether the hulking Tory can survive.

He’s too “Trumpian,” railed critics who see Johnson as loose with the truth and arrogant. Some warned that if BoJo survives two recent scandals, the U.K. would assume the tattered moral authority of post-Trump America.

The first scandal is Partygate — a set of revelations that Johnson and staff partied heartily at No. 10 Downing Street during the U.K.’s strict 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns.

Where have we seen this before? Think California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who survived after he was caught dining at Napa’s posh French Laundry restaurant with a contingent of operatives and lobbyists. None returned their masks to their mouths between bites, as the governor’s office had advised.

The effort to recall Newsom failed. (READ MORE: Newsom’s Mea Culpa Offers Lesson for Other Governors)

As BBC debated Johnson’s behavior, Americans were transfixed by a Twitter photo of failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams — bare-faced and smiling broadly — with masked elementary school children sitting behind her. Abrams promptly removed the photo.

(Abrams, by the way, failed to concede in 2018 when she lost to Republican Brian Kemp as she claimed the election was rigged. Another double standard.)

Partygate, I am told, could (or should) be fatal to Johnson because Britons see rule-following as part of their DNA.

It didn’t sit well to learn the PM and his aides partied repeatedly. Like it was 2019.

One 2020 affair in particular rankled, as it occurred the night before Prince Philip’s funeral. They were raising glasses at No. 10 Downing Street on the night before a grieving Queen Elizabeth II sat alone at her husband’s funeral in compliance with the nation’s strict social distancing rules.

The latest BoJo scandal is the “Savile slur” — gratuitous remarks the prime minister recently made about Sir Keir Starmer, the rival Labour leader. Johnson gratuitously offered that Starmer, when he was a director of public prosecutions years ago, “spent more time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile, as far as I can make out.”

Savile was a knighted and beloved celebrity until, a year after his death, reports emerged that he had sexually abused hundreds of children and adults. Dead, he may be the most hated celebrity in the U.K.

Staffers and colleagues were appalled at what they dismissed as Johnson’s Trumpian “fake news,” even if Starmer had apologized for the Crown Prosecution Service’s failure, as the Daily Telegraph pointed out.

The fact that a mob later swarmed and threw insults at Starmer, resulting in two arrests, led to comparisons with Jan. 6. Another strike against Johnson.

Johnson’s long-term aide and head of policy Munira Mirza resigned over Johnson’s remarks. In a searing letter, she explained, “This was not the normal cut-and-thrust of politics; it was an inappropriate and partisan reference to a horrendous case of child sex abuse. You tried to clarify your position today but, despite my urging, you did not apologise for the misleading impression you gave.”

Again, there’s a U.S. analogy involving a deceased sexual predator of teenage girls. Except in the States, the press went after the only lawman in America to prosecute Jeffrey Epstein.

When a Miami Herald reporter realized that Trump’s Labor Secretary Alex Acosta had overseen a plea deal that sentenced Epstein to 13 months behind bars and required him to register as a sex offender for life, that was a bad thing because Acosta, who was a U.S. Attorney at the time, didn’t get a tougher deal.

Acosta’s explanation — that he reasonably feared Epstein’s high-priced team of lawyers and investigators would make it nearly impossible to convict — didn’t matter. Acosta was Trump’s man.

So I watch British conservatives’ push for standards and decency with a sense of envy.

Given the parliamentary system, conservatives are secure in the knowledge that if they push Johnson out of No. 10, the next prime minister will be a Tory. And they believe that good Brits should demand elected officials exhibit good character — more than one sees with Johnson or Trump.

But blimey, such winds seem to blow only in one direction.

Debra J. Saunders

Fellow, Chapman Center for Citizenship Leadership
A fellow with Discovery Institute’s Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership, Debra J. Saunders worked for more than thirty years covering politics on the ground and in Washington, as well as American culture, the news media, the criminal justice system, and dubious trends in public schools and prestigious universities. Her column is nationally syndicated with Creators Syndicate.